After a fun weekend celebrating a friend’s milestone birthday, I drove home determined to find a particular photo of my group of friends from high school. We laughed so much that I wanted to reconnect with other memories from our past.
My high school photos live in a few plastic bins tucked into the back corner of my closet. They rest in obscurity under my Christmas decorations, extra blankets for house guests, and some boxes of my adult kids’ books that I really need to drop off at their homes.
As I peeked inside those plastic time capsules, it felt like a time warp hole opened, transporting me from my dining room table back to not just high school, but other periods in my past:
As a clueless new mom staring down at my newborn wondering why in the world the nurses were going to let me walk out of the hospital with my baby.
Then, as a 25-year-old mom listening to my second child ask, “Snack, Mommy?” in her squeaky little Minnie Mouse voice. Oh, how I loved asking her questions just to hear her tiny little voice.
I turned one more page…
And I gazed at my youngest child. She was our miracle baby eating dinner in her highchair. Her dad’s hand was in the photo as he fed her and wiped her face. We were a happy and whole family back then…
I closed the photo album and my eyes blinked back to the present. I felt the roll of tears slipping down my cheeks and the emotions in my heart were just as real and big as the day those photos were taken. While I may have revisited the past, the sense of happiness, joy, and sadness stuck with me in the present.
As you review past photos or entertain memories, what’s sweet for you? What’s a struggle for you?
I wrestled with whether to reopen the photo album to look at more photos. But could I handle the tension of both the good and bad memories? As I debated my choices, a helpful tool came to mind:
“Look back, but don’t stare.”
I heard this saying years ago in a family addiction recovery group. God used those words as a gentle reminder that I can revisit the memories of the past, but it isn’t healthy to stay there too long. Just as it isn’t safe to drive by only looking in the rearview mirror or backup camera, it’s not healthy for us to leave the gates of our minds open for the past to come and distract us from what’s happening in our present.
Unfortunately, our reflections on the past often tilt toward the negative moments. If we’re being honest, there are times when we prefer to entertain those negative memories. Is it possible that there are times when we revisit bad memories repeatedly in order to justify or cling to our anger, resentment, unforgiveness, or even our self-righteousness?
My friend, are there certain memories that you need to stop staring back at so often?
When we live in the past, the danger is that we will miss seeing God’s faithfulness, love, and power right here and now.
God is always at work in the right now of your life. No one is diminishing the pain, heartache, or loss that you’ve experienced, but if God’s promises can be trusted, then He is arranging opportunities for healing, renewal, or restoration for you. What if He’s been trying to show you purpose that can come out of that time of pain?
My friend, God’s best for you is yet to come — look forward to it.
Thankfully, we have wisdom from a scriptural author who had a difficult past. Here is his wisdom to guide us practically today:
…but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)
As the Apostle Paul wrote these words, I imagine he saw a mix of memories. He would likely have had flashbacks of his years of religious training, his old zealous religious ways, and hunting down early Christians. Imagine him flinching every time he remembered standing by as an early follower of Christ was killed.
Could Paul erase the memory of his past like it never happened? No. But, Paul committed not to let his past hijack God’s freedom and purpose for his future.
Whatever your mind keeps looking back to is where you will stay stuck unless you train yourself, like Paul, to look forward. Paul reminds us that it’s not easy, but it’s worth it!
You experience freedom in your future as you look forward to God instead of fixating on the past.